Judge: 'Nightmare' flood will keep Fayette Circuit Courthouse closed at least this week

jwarren@herald-leader.comOctober 21, 2013 

The Fayette Circuit Courthouse will be closed at least for the rest of the week while work crews clean up and make repairs after the building flooded Sunday night, court officials said.

Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine, vice chief judge of the circuit court, said the building suffered a "major flood" that damaged floors, furniture, computers, law books and historical records.

"It has been a nightmare," she said during an impromptu news conference outside the courthouse just before noon. "There will be no business in the building for the rest of this week."

The Administrative Office of the Courts released a statement that said outages to the security and fire-detection systems would cause the courthouse to be closed at least through Friday. An update will be sent Friday.

Laurie K. Dungeon, director of the AOC, said in the release that crews had been working since late Sunday, but the extent of the damage couldn't be assessed until the courthouse is dry.

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and court officials, the fire marshal and insurance inspectors were at the courthouse Monday.

Meanwhile, circuit court hearings will be held in the adjacent Fayette District Courthouse Tuesday through Thursday, Goodwine said.

For the short term, other operations, such family court, also could be shifted to the district courthouse, Fayette Circuit Clerk Vincent Riggs said.

Officials also are looking at the nearby U.S. District Courthouse.

"It's possible we might have court on Saturday," Goodwine said.

Senior administrative officials were at the courthouse Monday, said spokeswoman Leigh Ann Hiatt.

The flooding was discovered Sunday night when someone passing by saw water "gushing out" of the building and called the fire department, Goodwine said. The water reportedly was pouring out of an upstairs window.

The water came from a toilet leak detected about 10 p.m. Sunday, according to the fire department.

"A commode on the fourth floor apparently broke, for want of a better word, and flooded everything," Battalion Chief Jeff Nantz said. "There were inches of water on each floor, from the fourth floor on down."

Goodwine said a valve apparently ruptured, allowing water to "gush out."

No one was in the courthouse from about 5 p.m. Sunday until the flooding was discovered about five hours later, she said. Unlike the district court building, no security personnel are on duty in the circuit court building on weekends, she said.

Riggs, who was at the scene early Monday, said water got into many of the computers, which are in almost every office in the building.

"Some of the courtrooms were completely flooded," Riggs said.

Goodwine said most of the building was affected. Some ceiling material fell after being weakened by water.

She said the building's library, which contains law books and various historical documents was soaked.

"The extent of it we are still trying to determine," she said. "It's major, that's all I can say. Courtrooms have been damaged, equipment. As they have told us, even though there may not appear to be water damage, it could be internal with the electricity, the H-VAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system and things like that.

"Our clerk's office was spared, so we were able to save the paper files; all our paper filings were backed up on discs."

Goodwine said circuit court motions, suits and other documents were still being filed Monday in the district courthouse.

Monday morning, the courtyard in front of circuit court was packed with trucks and vans from various private water-cleanup companies. The buzz of pumps filled the air as they sucked water out of the building.

Cleanup workers had been on the scene since Sunday night, Riggs said.

Courthouse employees were helping Monday; some were seen carrying out boxes of papers and other materials. Riggs said 100 to 150 people worked in the building,

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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